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Omaha Magazine

Stories of a Scottish Castle

Sep 30, 2020 12:12PM ● By Lisa Lukecart
the facade of Florence's Trimble Castle

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The soft, smooth hum of a saxophone. The shimmy of a flapper dancing to a ragtime tune. Omaha high society wanted to know all the happenings behind the stone facade of the imposing Scottish baronial residence at 2060 Florence Blvd. 

The home, built in 1915 by Max and Flora Burkenroad, sits at the heart of the north side. 

The community of Florence contained a melting pot of diversity. A large portion of the population was foreign-born, made up of mainly Scandinavians, Germans, and Irish immigrants. 

“The neighborhood was woven together like a blanket, tight knit,” North Omaha history writer Adam Fletcher Sasse said. 

The Burkenroads were entrenched in businesses around the city, from grocery stores to pool halls. Their parties may have been on a smaller scale than a Gatsby blowout, but the soirees at the then-dubbed “Flora Burkenroad House” burned the gossip pages of the Omaha Bee newspaper. 

Yet, the imposing structure looks less like a rage venue and more like a fortress. The resemblance to a castle is seen in many details, such as the machicolations along the crenellated turret; although no one planned to pour boiling liquids onto attackers below. The tower showcases shorter lancet-shaped windows common to the style. The second story features varied window shapes but keeps its symmetry intact.   

Burkenroad wanted to flaunt his wealth on “Omaha’s Prettiest Mile” and commissioned prominent German architect Joseph P. Guth. The Joslyn Castle, built in 1903 and just three miles southwest, could have been an inspiration. Architects often mixed mediums in the early 1900s, and Queen Anne embellishments enhance its unique body. Guth left his signature, a curved arch above a dormer window, towering to the left. The same shape on top of buildings such as the Elks Hall and Druid Hall are reminders of his work. 

The Burkenroads wouldn’t stay in the house for long, possibly fleeing during the “white flight” to the west side, or Happy Hollow today, once the race riots of 1919 hit. Following the lynching of Will Brown, redlining and segregated neighborhoods became commonplace. After a failed attempt by a swindler who attempted to purchase it with a forged check, the six-bedroom home was sold to businessman Harry Rothkup, a trunk manufacturer, in 1920.

For the next several decades, Black Omahans were forced into a restricted area on the north side from 20th to 33rd streets due to hostility and racism. When Charles and Rosalee Trimble took over the home in the ’40s, it became a harbor for Black people seeking shelter. Trimble, a Black businessman and leader in the community, ran the property as the Broadview Hotel. The Green Book, a road guide, recommended the Broadview Hotel as a safe place to stay for traveling African Americans. Musical legends like Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington played in Dreamland Hall and other clubs, sometimes for a dollar, and are known to have been guests at the hotel.

Unfortunately, the home later developed a reputation. The police often raided it, claiming it was a den for prostitution. Historian Sasse believes the charges were cooked up. He said Von Trimble Jr., who ran the property, was known as a sedate, intelligent man and a positive role model in the community. Four blocks away from the Trimble Castle (as it became known in the 1950s and ’60s) were the Little Vietnam projects, so labeled because the street was “violent as Vietnam and war is hell, ergo, the projects were hell.” The police department’s “morals squad” may have wanted to make an example out of the successful business leader, or “to put him in his place,” Sasse said.

Today, the residence is owned by  Wesley Dacus, who bought the home in 1998 following its conversion into four apartments; Dacus resides on the main level and rents the other three units. He shared that he still receives visitors on occasion—typically single Black men in their 70s or 80s, arriving by cab—looking for a room to rent. He suspects they remember the house from its Green Book boarding house days and are in search of a safe haven.

Despite the design and history of Trimble Castle, it is still not designated as a landmark. Yet it stands regally, with its many stories to tell to all that will listen. 

This article was printed in the October 2020 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.